Thursday, March 10, 2016

Thursday, Fourth Week of Lent: From Sin to Mercy

“Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with such great power and with so strong a hand?” – Ex 32:11

“You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.” – Jn 5:39-40

No sacrament brings us into contact with divine wrath as well as God’s mercy like the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Whenever I go to confession or hear it, I almost always experience the Paschal Mystery, a movement from death to new life. First, I am faced with hard feelings such as shame and confusion. Then gradually and mysteriously, I sense compassion, mercy, and forgiveness overflowing, often with tears.

Two days ago, I was blessed with such an encounter. I participated in the General Confessions of people making a 14-week retreat in daily life. Afterwards, several of the priests and I shared how moving it was for us to receive such openness, honesty, and vulnerability from people. How mercy abounds, how God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

We can debate about how to read difficult passages in the Bible on God’s wrath in comparison to other scriptures about God’s tenderness. We can talk about how divine displeasure caused by human wrongdoing is to be understood in light of God’s intense delight in his people. Yet, experience undergirds knowledge. Heart-felt knowing flows from an encounter with Divine Mercy, just as joyful tears flow from a source deeper than guilt, shame and fear.

I am rediscovering and learning from experience that divine justice is at once God’s mercy through Christ’s outstretch love on the cross, embracing the full effects of our sin. That wrath is a real quality of God (and human beings), yet one less permanent than forgiving love. That in facing my sins, I can punish and hate myself, and feel as if God is angry with me. Yet, accepting this phase of reality helps me move towards remorse and finding myself caught in a deeper, more transformative dynamic that leads to greater life and communion.  As in today’s Gospel, when I participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I come closer to Jesus, who gives life.

Lord, help me to be honest with the ways I incur wrath (human and divine) through my wrongdoings. Help me to risk experiencing mercy when I seek forgiveness from another or from you by going to Confession.

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